There are 50 shades of Tony LaRussa, and we saw a few this week.
There was Happy Tony before his Chicago White Sox opened a homestand Monday on the first summerlike night on the South Side, with Yoán Moncada and Joe Kelly back and his team riding a six-game winning streak. Their eight-game skid was in the rearview mirror, and better days were ahead.
Then we got a glimpse of Ornery Tony late Monday after the Sox blew a six-run, ninth-inning lead to the Cleveland Guardians and eventually lost 12-9 in 11 innings.
The Sox committed four errors, including two in the fateful ninth by Moncada and Tim Anderson before Josh Naylor’s tying grand slam off Liam Hendricks. La Russa defended Moncada after when asked about the two errors, saying the ball had hopped up on the third baseman.
“What was the other one you didn’t like?” La Russa asked CHGO reporter Vinnie Duber.
Duber pointed out the error by Anderson.
“Did you ever try to throw something?” La Russa asked.
Duber pointed out Anderson’s error was on a missed catch from an outfield relay.
“We didn’t lose that game because of our defense,” La Russa said. “I disagree with that, so …”
This is all part of La Russa’s competitive nature, we’re told, which was why Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf brought him out of retirement to finish the job Rick Renteria couldn’t. No one takes it personally when La Russa questions the validity of a valid question. Occupational hazard.
Happy Tony returned after Tuesday’s 4-1 win over the Guardians, which preceded an unfortunate COVID-19 outbreak in the Guardians coaching ranks that led to a postponement Wednesday. It was well-timed for the Sox, giving La Russa’s bullpen an extra day of rest before the four-game series against the New York Yankees, the best team in baseball.
Before Thursday’s game, Duber asked La Russa if Johnny Cueto, pitching at Triple-A Charlotte, was an option for Tuesday’s doubleheader in Kansas City, Mo. We then saw Funny Tony.
“You’re an option,” La Russa told Duber, drawing awkward laughs from those who recalled La Russa had previously questioned Duber about whether he’d ever made a throw.
Somehow Duber not only had convinced La Russa he could throw but start for the White Sox.
Next came Befuddled Tony on Thursday night after Kelly recorded the first two outs of the eighth inning on four pitches of a 7-7 game before imploding with three straight walks, including seven balls in his last eight pitches. It was Kelly’s second outing after rehabbing from a right biceps injury the last 6½ months.
La Russa let Kelly face Aaron Judge, who had hit a home run off Ryan Burr that nearly made it across 35th Street in his previous at-bat. Kelly induced Judge to hit a weak chopper up the middle, a tough play but one that a good second baseman could make with the ginormous Judge running to first.
Leury García was not that second baseman. His throw wasn’t strong enough to beat Judge on a bang-bang play. As the go-ahead run scored and the first-base umpire signaled Judge safe, first baseman José Abreu fell asleep for a second as Gleyber Torres motored around third and scored the second run on the play.
Abreu attempted an awkward throw to the plate that NBC Sports Chicago analyst Ozzie Guillén outwardly mocked during the postgame show. In real time, analyst Steve Stone pointed directly at Abreu’s inattentiveness for allowing the second run to score.
Kelly then completely fell apart, walking Anthony Rizzo on four pitches. Instead of calling on Duber, who was in the press box writing his story, La Russa called on left-hander Tanner Banks to face the right-handed-hitting Giancarlo Stanton, who had homered twice off Dylan Cease.
With the Sox already trailing, Russa didn’t want to use high-leverage relievers Hendriks, who last pitched Monday, or Kendall Graveman, who had a day of rest after the postponement.
“At that point we’re already down, I don’t think you can waste an arm,” La Russa later said before correcting himself. “Not waste an arm, use up an arm. That’s what I think.”
Stanton singled home another run on an 0-2 changeup. Banks then served up a three-run home run to right-handed-hitting Josh Donaldson, making it 14-7. After the 15-7 loss, we saw Bemused Tony, still marveling at the ridiculous turn of events in the eighth after two quick outs in a tie game.
“I mean, you had to see it to believe it,” La Russa said. “I still don’t believe it.”
That would’ve made a great marketing slogan for the 2022 Sox, a team that has to be seen to be believed. Only 20,050 fans showed up Thursday on a beautiful night for the start of the biggest home series of the season, and the team averaged 16,596 in two games against the Guardians in similar weather.
The Sox haven’t exactly helped their cause. They entered Friday’s game 15-15, ranked dead last in fielding and 12th in pitching and hitting .225 as a team. It’s not the kind of performance that gives off “World Series vibes.”
So what shades of Tony La Russa will we see the rest of the season?
We can hardly wait to find out.